Nothing makes me feel richer than a long braid of garlic hanging on my kitchen wall. This is garlic season, and we just harvested 200 pounds! I love to peel and mince and hear garlic sizzle when it hits the oil in the pan. I love the seductive aroma perfuming the air and enriching everything it touches. I love garlic!
Gary and I have grown garlic in Chino Valley for more than 40 years. For some of that time we planted eight acres, hired a crew and shipped cross-country. It all started when a gentleman named Bill Grey handed me a superior garlic cultivar. At the time I received it this garlic had been grown locally by his family for over 35 years. I figured it must be well acclimated, and got planting directions.
Plant garlic in the fall around mid-October. Break up the biggest bulbs, then plant the biggest cloves three inches deep and six apart. Big bulbs and big cloves produce ever-bigger bulbs and bigger cloves, so the selection is important. In late fall garlic takes root and emerges as a green sprout. In good soil, with reasonable watering and weeding it’s easy to grow, insect- and disease-free. Cover it with a few inches of mulch in the winter and come spring it will grow steadily as the season warms. Late frost, even snow, won’t affect it. By early May it will be flourishing.
By early June the tops will start to brown as the plant’s energy flows down into the bulb. In mid-June it will be time to turn off the water, start the drying and hasten bulb-formation. When is it ready to harvest? Here's the test: pull up one bulb, cut it in half, and count the wrappers. When there are five layers it’s time to dig. Loosen the dirt, pull up the bulbs, and lay them flat in a shady place with good air circulation. When the tops are dry but before they are brittle, you can tie the garlic into bunches or braids for hanging. Garlic with the tops on keeps longer. Otherwise let it dry for at least two weeks. After that it’s easy to clean. Peel off the outer layers and cut off the roots and stems. Store your garlic at room temperature in a dry place with good air circulation.
We love this variety. We have tested and tasted many others and found this garlic to have the largest cloves, most pungent flavor, and the best keeping quality. The garlic hanging on my kitchen wall will keep until next year’s crop is harvested, a full year. We loved it so much and planted it for so long that that we named it Chino Valley Silverskin. Over this time we have paid back Bill’s generosity by sharing it with many other small farmers and backyard gardeners, including Cory and Shanti Rade of Whipstone Farm.
If you want to plant Chino Valley Silverskin yourself, go get some at the Whipstone Farm booth at the Prescott Farmer’s Market or contact me at PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa.org.
I’m celebrating garlic season this year with The Toasted Garlic Burger. Here's how you make it. Peel and mince one or two whole big garlic bulbs — you’ll need at least 1/3 cup minced, but more is better. For easy peeling, lightly smash the garlic with a knife, then dip your fingers in a little water. Garlic is sticky.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet and add all the garlic. Stir over medium heat till the garlic is golden and crisp. Cool for a few minutes, then add it to one pound of ground beef with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and a pinch of red pepper (to taste). Mix, form into patties, and fry in a cast-iron skillet or grill over a hot fire. Slice and toast buns. Then rub each cut side with a clove of raw garlic and brush with olive oil.
For an additional garlic kick, dress that burger with Garlic Tahini Sauce. Finely mince four cloves of garlic. Mix them with 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. Set aside for 15-30 minutes, then strain completely, pressing the juice through the strainer. Discard the garlic. Mix the lemon juice with 1/3 cup of tahini (aka sesame-seed paste), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of ground cumin. Add a pinch of ground chili if you like spicy. Whisk well, adding 5 tablespoons of ice water as you go. You'll end up with a thick, creamy garlic dressing. Layer up that burger with a generous dollop of this Garlic Tahini Sauce, slices of red onion and ripe tomato, and a crisp leaf of lettuce — and, of course, a crisp chilled beer.
Enjoy, and join me in a celebration of a successful Garlic Season!
Photos by Gary Beverly.
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.